Friday, March 27, 2009

Dare to be a Kitchen Hero

Recently in the Land of St. Honore’, a Daring Baker of the female persuasion looked around the kitchen to make sure that she had all of the pots and pans, spoons and whisks, rolling pins and piles of ingredients she needed for the March challenge.

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

The most important part of this challenge is the hand-made Spinach Egg Pasta. She is also going to use Lynne’s recipes for béchamel (white) sauce and her own zucchini based turkey ragu.

It was a new kitchen, so she wanted to be prepared. Her children watched in awe as she spun around, faster and faster and when she stopped she had on a red hat and was holding her scale.

She measured the pasta ingredients, grabbed her bench scraper and a wooden spoon and mixed together the green, sticky pasta dough with her bare hands.

Such fun! She let the kids help with the kneading so everyone could have greenish hands.

Once the dough was set aside to rest it was time for her next transformation.

First she gathered the Béchamel sauce ingredients and pot by the stove, then spun around and around in a blur and when she stopped she had on a slinky turquoise dress and carried her trusty whisk. The children’s eyes nearly popped out of their heads. Béchamel sauces need a lot of whisking, so she shared that task with the kids, too.

The day before she had partnered with her friend, The Mighty Flame, after she donned her ninja outfit and chopped up the zucchini for the ragu. Today he was helpful again with the Béchamel, but the kids kept their distance since he was so hot. She would never tell them just how hot…too much information.

While the kids took a nap, she returned to her normal appearance and made good use of her rolling pin, starting with snake shaped pieces of the dough

and ending up with long, thin, narrow sheets of green specked pasta, piled up on the counter with plastic wrap in between.

Time for a cup of tea and a salad for sustenance! Making lasagna noodles took real effort.

Too bad there was no rolling pin super hero persona to change to.

In the afternoon Flame helped her get a big pot of water boiling. The kids, awake again, found it fascinating to see how bright green the pasta looked as it came out of the boiling water

and how dull the green turned as it was instantly cooled when placed in the bowl of cold water near the stove. A quick drying on paper towels was all that was needed, then the fun began.

Flame did the spinning around thing and when he stopped he was dressed in green and wielding a spatula. As the Daring Baker of the female persuasion added the Béchamel sauce to the baking pan, he spread it out to a thin layer. She layered on the pasta, ragu sauce and more Béchamel, with El Spatulla helping with spreading when needed.

Grated real Parmesan was sprinkled on, too, in turn, and as the final layer over a layer of Béchamel.

By this time everyone was a bit tired and ready for the gorgeous lasagna to go into the oven to bake. Milk and cookies were enjoyed all around.

At dinner time the lasagna was baked and delicious. The thin sheets of pasta were delicate and full of flavor. The creamy sauce, pungent cheese and hearty ragu combined with the pasta to make the perfect meal. The kids even asked for seconds. Once again the Daring Baker of the female persuasion wished for another super hero persona…this time for photography. She was so tired that her photos of this grand and glorious dish are not of the best quality.

As she tucked the kids in to bed later that evening, she thought to herself, “and this morning I was just a mild-mannered housewife”. Thus ends the story for the March Daring Baker Challenge…pure fiction.

If you haven’t yet visited, please visit the NEW Daring Kitchen blog (Click on logo at right of this post...@X#!*Blogger isn't letting me do an actual link!), home of these super heroes and of the Daring Bakers and Daring Cooks. It has a blogroll so that you can visit lots and lots of other Daring Bakers’ blogs to see what super heroes they have been this month in creating their own version of the delicious lasagna.

Many thanks to Ivonne, Lis, Patricia (for the logo and hero images) and Steve for the new site. It’s awesome, people. Go take a look and you can see patricia’s super heroes of the kitchen who inspired my little story.

The March Challenge recipes for the lasagna noodles and the béchamel are from The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (published by William Morrow and Company Inc., 1992). The ragu is my own recipe, created over 25 years ago for my daughter.

Lasagna of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)
Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time

10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)#1
1 recipe Béchamel Sauce (recipe follows)#2
1 recipe Turkey Zucchini Ragu (recipe follows)#3
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Working Ahead:
The ragu and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The ragu can also be frozen for up to one month. The pasta can be rolled out, cut and dried up to 24 hours before cooking. The assembled lasagna can wait at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius/68 degrees Fahrenheit) about 1 hour before baking. Do not refrigerate it before baking, as the topping of béchamel and cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.

Assembling the Ingredients:
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.

Cooking the Pasta:
Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagna from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.

Assembling the Lasagna:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu.
Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.

Baking and Serving the Lasagna:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagna. Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagna rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagna, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.

#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)
Preparation: 45 minutes

Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.
2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)

Working by Hand:

A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.
A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.
A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta.

Note: although it is not traditional, Enza has successfully made pasta with a marble rolling pin, and this can be substituted for the wooden pin, if you have one.

Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.
A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.
Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.

Mixing the dough:
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.

With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.

Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.

Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagna, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagna pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!

Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag. (NOTE: Since I was making the lasagna the same day, I didn't dry the pasta sheets.)

#2 Béchamel
Preparation Time: 15 minutes

4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2&2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.

#3 Turkey Zucchini Ragu
1/2 lb ground meat (beef or turkey - I use turkey)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium squash, cut into chunks (any summer squash, but zucchini works best)
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 15 oz can diced tomatos in juice
2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon dry basil
1/4 teaspoon dry rosemary
note - fresh oregano, basil and rosemary can be used - use twice as much, or more, to taste
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

In large skillet heat oil over medium high heat. Brown ground meat. Set aside.
Using same pan, cook onion and garlic until transluscent and barely brown, about 5 minutes, stirring now and then.

While meat and then onions/garlic cook, put half of squash in a blender. Add 1/2 of the can of tomato sauce and 1 tablespoon of water. Pulse blender, removing top and stirring every couple of pulses, until mixture is broken down but still chunky. Once onions have finished, pour this mixture into the pan. Lower heat to simmer and deglaze the pan with the tomato mixture, scraping up the browned bits.

Return browned meat to the pan and stir. Put the rest of the squash into the blender, add rest of tomato sauce, pulse the same way the first batch was done. Add this batch to the pan of meat mixture and stir.

Add diced tomatoes, herbs, salt and pepper to pan, stir.

Return to boil, cover, turn down heat and simmer at least 2 minutes, stirring about every 10 minutes to avoid scorching. (The longer the sauce simmers, the better it will taste.)

note - this sauce tastes even better if allowed to cool and left in the refrigerator overnight to blend the flavors. Reheat over low heat until simmering.

Verdict: This is not a heavy, gut busting lasagna, but a delicate, savory and delicious version. We liked it very much. It seemed to be best the day it was made and didn’t taste as good a few days later…the pasta seemed dry and the sauce not so creamy. It is a bit of work, but would be a nice celebration dish.
Thank you Mary, Melinda & Enza for choosing such a great recipe for the March Daring Baker challenge! I've never made fresh pasta before and would not have if y'all had not chosen this recipe. Great job!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pretty Tasty Red Cabbage

I was talking with my friend Hil the other day and telling her about this pomegranate juice that I'm cooking with. I told her I might try some fruit soup or a sweet and sour beet salad. We moved on to talk about dinner that night and she mentioned that since she had been working so much that her vegetable options were cabbage was about it. The light bulb went on for me. Of course, red cabbage, red sweet and sourish pomegranate juice...perfect for braised sweet and sour red cabbage. I used some more of that great POM Wonderful juice.

Before we get to the cabbage, I want to show you a couple of photos I took of the wild Douglas iris in the woods at work. I love this time of year when they arrive and brighten up the areas where they bloom. Often the surrounding landscape is full of old dead grasses and weeds, so these spots of light purplish blue are a delightful contrast and delicately pretty, too.

Tonight I made that wonderful red cabbage dish and it was delicious! We had it with some zucchini and pork chops that Sweetie cooked on the grill. Today was truly a spring time day, so grilling seemed like the way to go.

Braised red cabbage couldn't be simpler and it's quick, too. Since you only use a small amount of olive oil it's also pretty light. Adding the pomegranate juice adds antioxidants, which I've heard are good for you although I still don't really understand about them.

The juice has been proven to be good for cardiovascular health, prostate health, erectile function...whoo-hoo, and helps with diabetes. According to the literature, not all pomegranate juices will provide these benefits.

Do a little research yourself if you are counting on these benefits. One thing I saw was that too much pomegranate juice, combined with cholesterol meds, can actually be dangerous. Well, that was an Internet alert which you can't always believe.

What you can believe is that this is a delicious, pretty, refreshing side dish that goes together quickly and easily.

Elle's Red Cabbage with Pomegranate Juice
Serves 4 -6

1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large head red cabbage, sliced thin, then cut crosswise into roughly 2 inch lengths
8 oz. (1 cup) POM Wonderful pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (or more to taste)

In large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium hot heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute' for 3-4 minutes, until onion is translucent.

Add the cabbage and stir to coat with the onions and garlic.Stir in the pomegranate juice.

Sprinkle the balsamic vinegar and drizzle the honey over the cabbage. Add the pepper. Stir to completely combine.

Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes until the cabbage is tender.

Serve hot.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Some Kinda Wonderful

When Diana Salier contacted me to ask if I’d like to try some POM Wonderful pomegranate juice and blog about the results, it was easy to say ‘Yes’.

In general I avoid commercialization on my blog, mostly because I like to be free to do what I want to do. The reason it was easy to say ‘Yes’ was because I’ve already used the product and found it to be a delicious juice, 100% pomegranate juice according to the label.

Having some samples to play with encouraged me to think a bit outside of the box. It has many health benefits, but the recipe that came to mind first was not a bit healthy.

In her fabulous book Baking, from My Home to Yours, Dorie Greenspan has a recipe for a lemon cream that sounds dreamy. She makes an orange and a lime variation. I wondered if I could make a pomegranate and lemon version and how that would work.

Since I rarely make tarts, the first hurdle was making the tart dough and baking it as a crust in a tart pan. I know there are some for whom this is as easy as falling out of bed.

For me it was somewhat nerve wracking. I wasn’t sure that I processed the dough mixture enough (or too much) in the food processor and then I didn’t have a 9 inch tart pan, so I used a smaller one and a very small one, but was unsure if the volume was correct for that much dough.

When I was baking the frozen crusts, I thought the filling would cook faster, so when they needed to come out of the oven and have the foil removed, I was madly stirring filling with a whisk. Fortunately Sweetie was happy to take the crusts from the oven and then I used one had to stir and the other to remove foil!

As it turned out, the crusts are fine. Next time I might use a little less dough in the pans for a thinner crust, but these are OK. Next time I would increase the gelatin because the filling was a bit too goopey, even after chilling. The filling also seemed to be a dull color, so I added some food color. Not sure if that was a good thing, either, but I do like the combination of the spiced pears poached in more POM Wonderful pomegranate juice with the sweet tart creamy, buttery filling. You can taste the delicious flavor of pomegranate juice and the zing tartness of lemon juice.

Pomegranate Lemon Tart with or without Spiced Poached Pears
a variation of Creamy Orange Tart in Baking from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Tart Crust
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup confectioners sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold or frozen butter
cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, confectioners sugar, and salt into the work bowl of a food processor with the steel blade. Pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is cut in. Stir the yolk briefly, then add to the ingredients in the food processor a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. Once the egg is processed, pulse the mixture with longer pluses, about 10 seconds each, until the mixture forms clumps. Turn the clumped dough out onto a work surface and very lightly knead the dough to incorporate any dry ingredients missed by the pulsing.

Butter a 9 inch tart pan. Add the dough and press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides. Save one little piece for patching once baked. Work gently to keep the crumbly texture.

Freeze the crust a minimum of 30 minutes or longer. While crust is freezing, you can make the filling.

Pomegranate Lemon Filling
1 cup sugar
Grated zest of one lemon
4 large eggs
¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice
2 sticks plus five tablespoons (10 ½ oz) butter at room temperature, cut into tablespoon size pieces
1 tablespoon cold water
1 ¼ teaspoons unflavored gelatin

Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.

In a large heatproof bowl, rub together the sugar and the lemon zest. Whisk in the eggs, then whisk in the lemon juice and pomegranate juice.

Place the bowl over the pan of simmering water and stir with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels tepid to the touch. Continue whisking until the mixture reaches 180 degrees F (an instant read thermometer is best way to check). Whisk constantly. The mixture will start out foamy and eventually, just before reaching 180 degrees F, will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks.

As soon as the mixture reaches 180 degrees F., remove from the heat and pour mixture through a strainer into a blender (best) or food processor. Discard the zest that collects in the strainer.

Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140 degrees F, about 10 minutes.

Turn the blender on high or start the processor. Add the butter about 5 pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides as needed. Once the butter is incorporated, keep the machine going for about another 3 minutes.

While the machine is processing for the last 3 minutes, mix the cold water and gelatin in a small heatproof cup. Microwave for 15 seconds to dissolve the gelatin. Set aside.

Pour the mixed creamy mixture from the blender or food processor into a bowl. Whisk in the gelatin. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the pomegranate lemon filling.

Chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.

While the filling is chilling, bake the crust, as long as it has chilled for at least 30 minutes in the freezer. (This would work far better than the way I did it, trying to bake the crust and cook the filling at the same time!).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Center a rack in the oven.

Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Return to the oven and bake for another 8 minutes or so or until it is firm and golden brown. If there are any cracks in the baked crust, use the save piece of dough to patch them, then bake another two minutes.

Let the crust cool completely before filling.

Take the chilled filling from the fridge and whisk vigorously to loosen.

Spoon the filling into the cooled crust and spread evenly. Serve now or refrigerate until serving time. Serve within four hours for best crust results.

Optional addition - pear topping :

While cream is chilling, poach a pear or two that has been peeled, cored and sliced

in the following poaching liquid:

1 cup POM Wonderful pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
¼ teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

Poach the pear slices for 5 – 10 minutes until pink and softened. Remove from poaching liquid with slotted spoon or skimmer and let cool completely.

Place a layer of pear slices on the crust and cover with the pomegranate lemon filling or spread on the filling, then arrange pear slices attractively.

If pears are on top of tart, you can glaze them with:

1/3 cup apple or quince jelly mixed with ½ teaspoon water

Bring to a boil, then use a pastry brush to glaze the pear slices and pomegranate lemon filling.
Chill to set the jelly before serving.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Flavors of Spring

The first wild iris are blooming at work in the woods, the birds are singing up a storm most mornings and the forsythia bush is beginning to have branches with bright yellow flowers dancing up and down. Driving around and about lots of daffodils are seen and our ancient cherry tree is putting on it's short annual floral show. Spring...official starting today.

One of my favorite flavors of spring is asparagus. Those green spears which turn brighter green when cooked are crisp and somehow taste green to me. Grandma L brought us some Meyer lemons, too. Although I think of winter as the citrus season, there are lots of Meyer lemons around when spring arrives.

A great dinner using these two ingredients and a few others was a hit this week with Sweetie. Chicken breasts can be pretty bland on their own, but perk up a lot when covered with a layer of thinly sliced lemons, splashed with some chicken broth, then set to cook over low heat until cooked through and browned a bit as the broth evaporates. We don't usually eat the lemon slices, but they look pretty on the plate with the chicken and a wonderful pasta and asparagus dish.

The asparagus dish is a little more complex. Pasta, usually linguine but this time angel hair style, is cooked and some of the cooking water is mixed with ricotta cheese to make a sauce. While that is happening, asparagus pieces are cooked until al dente and bright green. It all gets mixed together, seasoned, and topped with fluffy drifts of grated real Parmesan Reggiano.

Enjoy the flavors of spring in any way you can, even if there is still a nip in the air and snow on the ground in places. Spring is partly a way of relating to the world as much as a true season. Happy spring to each and every one of you.

Pasta with Ricotta and Asparagus
from the Mediterranean Diet Cookbook

3/4 lb tender young asparagus
1 garlic clove, crushed
3 tablespoons olive oil
(optional - 2 tablespoons fresh mint, minced)
1 pound long pasta - fettuccine, linguine, spaghetti, angel hair are all good
6 quarts water
1/2 pound fresh creamy ricotta (or mild goat cheese)
dash nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper to taste (I like a lot)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Trim tough ends off asparagus. Cut tender parts into 2 inch lengths. In a saute pan, gently stew the garlic and asparagus in the oil until the vegetables are tender, but not brown (about 15 minutes). Stir in mint if using. Set aside.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in lightly salted water. While pasta cooks, extract 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and mix it in a small saucepan with the ricotta. Set saucepan over low heat and gently cream the ricotta and cooking water. When the ricotta is warm, taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Add nutmeg and1 tablespoon grated cheese. Stir to combine.

Drain the pasta and combine immediately with the cheese sauce, tossing to mix well. Arrange on a warm platter and pour asparagus and oil mixture over the top. Sprinkle with the grated cheese and serve at once.

Serves 6

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Will Sit for Bread

Xam says there's something delicious over at the Bread Baker's Dog HERE to go there and see!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Zesty Lemon Sugar Cookies

This recipe is one that my mother got from an old friend of the family, Irene Johnston. The cookies are simple and not too sweet. With the addition of Meyer lemon zest and juice they have some zing. Irene’s recipe didn’t have the salt and had nutmeg instead of the vanilla extract. Adding the lemon was my idea. These would also be delicious with regular lemon zest and juice. In a pinch lemon extract would be OK to give them lemon flavor if you find yourself without real lemons.

The star shape is to show off a recent gift of three star shaped cookie cutters. Just like the three bears, they are three sizes. I used the papa

and the baby sized ones.

You can use any cutters you like.

This dough is really easy to work with, unlike some rolled cookie doughs I’ve tried in the past. I added about 2 tablespoons milk at the end when the dough seemed too dry. Worked like a charm.

These taste best when the tips of the stars are just starting to turn golden brown. They are fine without the lemon glaze, but it does add another kick of lemon flavor.

Meyer Lemon Sugar Cookies
by Irene Johnston

1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
Mix the above ingredients together until creamy.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
zest from ½ a medium Meyer lemon (or use regular lemon…it’s delish, too)

Mix the flour, baking soda, salt and zest together. Combine with the butter mixture. If too dry, add mile, one tablespoon at a time until dough forms.

Roll the dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutters. Place unbaked cookies on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees F. until lightly browned, about 6-7 minutes. (If dough sticks while rolling, refrigerate briefly). Remove from oven when done, cool on baking sheet a minute, then cool on cake rack until fully cooled.

After cookies have cooled, can be frosted and decorated as desired.

Meyer Lemon Glaze
Zest from ½ a lemon
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
juice from Meyer lemon, heated for one minute in the microwave

Place zest and confectioners’ sugar in a bowl. Whisk in a little of the lemon juice. Add dribbles of the juice until a glaze is formed. If too thin, add a little more sugar; if too thick whisk in more lemon juice. Reserve left over juice for another use.

Using small offset spatula, ice tops of each cookie. Set on cake rack to dry.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Goes With Rolls

The new blog, Bread Baker's Dog, has a great recipe for Refrigerator Rolls. So it's time to talk about the dish that went with the rolls.

It was a brunch/lunch kind of gathering, so the main dish was suited to that. Imagine a layer of savory mushrooms, topped with green green sliced green onions,

covered with a cottage cheese rich custard. Over the custard are sprinkled both cayenne pepper and paprika which get swirled together with a spatula.

The whole assemblage gets baked in a 350 degree oven until golden, then served warm. Sliced seasonal strawberries filled out the plate, but sauteed apple slices or a bunch of grapes would be a nice garnish instead.

All of this goes together in a flash if you have a food processor. If not, it's just some chopping and the topping geta a whirl in the blender.

It looks like you have been working hard, but really, it's easy to make this dish. It works fine for dinner, too, with some steamed broccoli and a salad on the side.

Mushroom Crusted Quiche
a recipe from P.E.O. Chapter AJ

10 tablespoons butter, divided
1 pound mushrooms
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup saltines
1 ½ cups chopped green onions – about two bunches
4 cups shredded jack cheese
2 cups cottage cheese
6 eggs
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a saute’ pan. Using a food processor, blender, or knife, finely chop the mushrooms, then saute’ them in the melted butter until most of the juices evaporate. The mushrooms don’t have to be browned. Add the thyme and nutmeg and stir.

Crush the saltines using a food processor, blender, or rolling pin. Mix the saltine crumbs into the mushroom mixture and turn the mixture into a buttered 9 inch by 13 inch casserole dish.

Saute’ the green onions in 4 tablespoons butter and spread onto the mushroom ‘crust’, distributing as evenly as possible.

Sprinkle casserole with shredded cheese.

Blend the cottage cheese and eggs in a blender or food processor until smooth. Pour onto casserole and spread until even. Sprinkle the paprika and cayenne pepper evenly over the casserole and swirl with a spatula or the back of a spoon to mix on the top.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 – 30 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

NOTE: Although you could reduce the fat by using less to saute’ the vegetables, restrain yourself from using low fat for the cheese or cottage cheese. I suspect that egg substitute could be used with fine results if you’d care to make that substitution.

Serve warm.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Work of the Poet: Ruby Tuesday

Work of the Poet: Ruby Tuesday

Ruby Flower

Another Ruby Tuesday photo. This one is really more about the fountain than the red flower, but think how plain the photo would have been without that little hint of ruby.

This event is hosted at Work of the Poet.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Lime, Coconut and More French Toast

Lime zest is so pungent, my whole kitchen smelled zesty today. Loved it!

One of the joys of blogging is visiting other blogger's sites and finding things that you just have to try. Another joy is participating in events hosted by bloggers you admire. This post is about having both happen in a delightful way.

The talented and delightful Meeta of What's for Lunch Honey? blog is hosting a monthly Mingle with a Caribbeans theme. Making the mingle even more fun is that my very favorite Caribbean area blogger, Cynthia of Tastes Like Home is part of the Mingle due to her book. Do go to Meeta's blog and find out all about it. You might just have time to join in the fun.

Another blog to visit often is Susan's Wild Yeast. Once a week she hosts the equivalent of a playground for passionate bread bakers, an event called Yeastspotting. The most recent collection on Yeastspotting included a recipe for Lime French Toast by Jan of InnCuisine blog. Never being content to leave well enough alone, and inspired by Jan's own variations on the French Toast theme, I decided to make Caribe French Toast with a host of island flavors including lime, coconut, pineapple, vanilla, rum and banana.

This is a perfect dish for a brunch because most of the work is done ahead. It also looks very impressive when plated. So what makes up Caribe French Toast? A buttery syrup with both lime juice and zest, pineapple juice and a healthy dose of dark brown sugar is heated up in a pot, cooled and mellowed with coconut milk. It serves as the base for the bread to sit on.

Over the top you pour an egg rich custard flavored with vanilla, then sprinkle it with coconut.

It sits in the fridge overnight so that the bread can soak up the flavors, then bakes to a golden brown.

While the toast bakes, you make a warm banana and pineapple topping. If you desire, you can even doll it up a bit more with some rum and/or candied ginger. Sweetie said that this was world class and he really liked the haunting note that the coconut milk provided. It's a bit on the sweet side, so you could reduce the brown sugar amount or serve with something salty like bacon on the side. The soft and custardy French toast has crisp coco nutty crust and the fruit topping finishes the Caribe flavors perfectly. Take a bite and you'll feel those warm breezes on your cheek. What could be nicer?

Caribe French Toast
¼ cup (4 tablespoons) butter
½ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup or treacle
finely minced zest of 3 limes
juice of 3 limes (about 1/3 cup)
1/3 cup juice from drained crushed pineapple (see Compote below)
½ cup canned coconut milk
2 eggs
3 egg whites
1 cup milk
½ tablespoon vanilla
¼ cup flaked coconut
1/2 loaf French bread, cut into inch thick slices

Spray a 9×13 inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

In a medium saucepan over low heat combine the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup or treacle, lime zest and juice, and pineapple juice. Cook about 5 minutes, until the butter and sugar have melted. Remove from heat and stir in coconut milk. Cool. Pour into the baking dish.

In a mixing bowl, mix eggs, egg whites, milk and vanilla. Blend well (I whip this with an electric whisk attachment on my mixer). Arrange the bread slices in one layer over the lime mixture and pour the whipped egg and milk mixture over the bread. Sprinkle with the coconut. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes prior to baking and allow to return to room temperature.

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes or until golden brown. If needed, place under broiler to give the coconut a slight toasting. Watch so it doesn't burn.

Place 2 slices of the baked Lime French Toast on each plate. Top with Pineapple Banana Compote (recipe follows), and garnish with a bit of sifted confectioners’ sugar.
Pineapple Banana Compote
1 large banana, sliced
¼ cup (4 tablespoons) butter
½ of a 15 oz can crushed pineapple in juice, drained (use some of the juice for the French Toast), then add back in 2 tablespoons of the juice and stir
2 tablespoons dark rum (optional)
¼ teaspoon minced crystallized ginger or powdered ginger (optional)

In a saute’ pan, melt the butter. Over medium high heat cook the banana in the butter until golden and softened. Add the pineapple and stir to combine well. Heat just until the pineapple is warm. Stir in the rum and ginger (if using). Serve over Caribe French Toast. Leftovers can be used over waffles, pancakes, or ice cream.

If you know how to do flaming rum, you could bring the plates to the table, dusted with confectioners sugar and garnished with a lime slice, then flame the topping and scoop flaming spoonsful of it over the toasts.

This is going to be an entry in Meeta's Mingle and, as a tribute to Jan, in Susan's Yeastspotting.